By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Not that there was much doubt, but it seems as though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did not closely follow the two-year saga of nonsense known as DeflateGate.
Jones, speaking to the media after his team’s Week 1 victory on Sunday night, broke his temporary stretch of silence on the ongoing battle between the NFL and his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, over domestic violence allegations.
In both cases — the frivolous case of PSI and inflation needles, and the much more serious accusations of domestic violence — the public at large remains unaware of the cold, hard truth. We can read the lengthy report compiled by Ted Wells on Tom Brady, or we can read the gross details of the Elliott police report, but the point is we don’t know.
Except for Jones. He claims to know, and in speaking with reporters, he clarified why Brady deserved his four-game suspension but Elliott does not deserve his six-game suspension.
“Well, [DeflateGate] was about whether or not the player had misrepresented to the commissioner. We’ve got rules that if you don’t tell the truth to the commissioner, then you can get sanctioned. Those are rules,” Jones said. “That’s not the case here. Zeke gave him everything … everything he had to have here. So these are different issues.”
Well, not really.
When Brady was suspended by the NFL, the reasoning was that the league believed it was “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware” of a ball deflation scheme which wasn’t proven to have happened. While Brady did initially refuse to hand over his cell phone to investigators, those investigators were in possession of all of his communications with any potentially involved parties. Also, as former NFl commissioner Paul Tagliabue stated clearly in overrulling the punishments Goodell had enforced on Saints players for the so-called “Bountygate” scandal, “There is no evidence of a record of past suspensions based purely on obstructing a League investigation.”
Essentially, prior to Brady, the precedent stated that it didn’t matter how little or how much a player cooperated with a league investigation. Ultimately, punishment would be determined based on evidence.
(UPDATE: According to Deadspin, the NFL asked Elliott to turn over his phone information, but he only “provided ‘redacted, incomplete’ records.” That’s not quite the “everything” that Jones suggested.)
In the Brady case, the evidence was lacking, so the cell phone became the primary target of the league to win the battle of public opinion when Goodell issued his ruling to uphold his own decision. It was successful, and it still has Jones convinced that Goodell did anything but “an outstanding job” when he was violating several tenets of fairness in going after another team’s player.
But now that it’s Jones’ player who is being subjected to Goodell’s tactics, he has found a problem.
Jones now just wants things to be fair.
“Why should it surprise us when we adjudicate, or the equivalent to adjudicate, over a privilege that we’ve got in our relationship with players, and we don’t do it in a fair way? Why should it surprise anybody if we get slapped?” Jones said Sunday night. “It doesn’t surprise me. You’ve got to be fair.”
Without relitigating the trivial football fight, it was not fair when Goodell ruled to keep Brady and the NFLPA dark with regard to Jeff Pash’s shadow role as “editor” of the Wells report. It was likewise unfair that the firm hired to serve as “independent” investigators provided their investigative notes to one side (the NFL) but not the other (the NFLPA) and then served as the NFL’s counsel at the appeal hearing. Then there was the matter of Goodell claiming impartiality as an arbitrator, even though the decision to suspend the player was his own decision in the first place.
Robert Katzmann, the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, explained his interpretation of the breach of fairness in his dissent to the ruling to uphold Goodell’s decision.
“The lack of any meaningful explanation in the Commissioner’s final written decision convinces me that the Commissioner was doling out his own brand of industrial justice,” Katzmann wrote.
Katzmann ended his dissent succinctly: “It is ironic that a process designed to ensure fairness to all players has been used unfairly against one player.”
Long story short, Brady won in a district court and ultimately lost in a court of appeals, but at no point was the “fairness” of Goodell affirmed. The case against Brady was slanted from the start. Elliott’s case appears to be moving along the same track. (If you care to learn more details about the unfairness currently at play, Wetzel perfectly tackled that matter on Friday.)
Without oversimplifying a complex issue, the NFL’s investigator recommended that Elliott not face a suspension. Her suggestions were ignored, and the NFL sought to silence her comments by not including her in the meeting in which Lisa Friel recommended the six-game suspension. The fact that Friel is openly a die-hard fan of the New York Giants and saw no issue with Giants kicker Josh Brown getting just a one-game suspension last year is a part of the story that — sad as it may sound — cannot be ignored. The fact that the NFL scrambled to issue a six-game suspension to Brown three days ago (nearly a full year since his final NFL game played) shows just how poorly the NFL has bungled the current situation with Elliott.
Jones is right to have his doubts … though subtly threatening the job status of the NFL’s head of investigation in matters related to domestic violence was without a doubt over the line. And it’s difficult to feel sympathy for someone who allowed the wool to be placed over his eyes as he gleefully watched the NFL’s best team squirm in the midst of an unwinnable fight with the NFL.
“I’m a big supporter of [Goodell],” Jones stated in the spring of 2015. “I know one of his best qualities is fairness.”
Goodell was not being fair then. He is not being fair now. Had Jones been more interested in the matter from January 2015 through September 2016 instead of giving employment to Greg Hardy and trying to paint the accused domestic abuser as a victim, none of this would be surprising to him.